Commerce City-Brighton Victim Services Unit becomes a model for other agencies
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is April 19-25
Law enforcement agencies across the nation are placing greater emphasis on providing focused support to victims of crime. While victim services once took a backseat in processes designed to bring offenders to justice, services giving victims a compassionate voice, helping them cope, and educating them about their rights are now taking on greater importance. During National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW), local police departments in Commerce City and neighboring Brighton are proud to be at the forefront of agencies providing high-quality victim services.
In 2014, the Commerce City and Brighton police departments merged their victim service teams to form a more robust Victim Services Unit (VSU) serving both jurisdictions. The VSU has since provided crucial services to thousands of local crime victims, responding on-scene to support people who have been traumatized by domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and many other serious crimes.
“Taking care of people who are distressed by violent crime is incredibly important to us,” said Commerce City Chief of Police Clint Nichols. “We have taken significant steps over the past several years to make victim services a priority in our community and we strive to continue improving how we assist victims of crime. I have a great deal of appreciation for our victim advocates who are out on-scene, in the middle of the night, helping people through some of the darkest moments of their lives.”
While this philosophy provides tangible benefits to residents of Commerce City and Brighton, it is also now paying dividends for victims of crime more than 500 miles away in Kaysville, Utah. The Commerce City-Brighton VSU is currently serving as a mentor for the Kaysville Police Department as they build a victim assistance program for their community. Located between Ogden and Salt Lake City, Kaysville is in the early stages of creating such a program and using the Commerce City-Brighton VSU as a model for how it should operate.
The partnership originated through a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) training course that helps law enforcement agencies build or expand their victim assistance programs. The 10-week course, known as ELEVATE APB (Excellence in Law Enforcement-Based Victim Assistance Training and Enrichment Applied Program Building), matched the Commerce City-Brighton VSU as a mentor for the Kaysville PD. This mentorship includes sharing policies and procedures, tips on creating a volunteer program, and much more.
“Commerce City and Brighton have already been through it all and we can benefit from the lessons they’ve learned and improvements they’ve made along the way,” said Kaysville Assistant Chief of Police Seth Ellington. “I think many agencies don’t put enough stock in what the Victim Services Unit does and haven’t utilized its potential. Victim Services are as important as anything else we’re doing in law enforcement.”
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), only around 15 percent of law enforcement agencies have specialized victim assistance units. Having a victim services program makes a significant difference for those who are most affected by crime and tragedy.
“When an agency doesn’t have a VSU, victims affected by crime often don’t get the same on-scene response of someone focusing on them in that moment and helping them through their reaction to trauma,” says Commerce City-Brighton Victim Services Manager Kim Messina. “While the responding officers and detectives are focused on the crime that occurred, our victim advocates are focused on the well-being of the victim, helping them understand their rights and available resources, and providing the information they need to make tough decisions they might face.”
Learn more about the Commerce City-Brighton Victim Services Unit at c3gov.com/VSU.
The VSU is currently seeking volunteers to become victim advocates. No formal training is required. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Kim Messina at email@example.com or 303-655-2308.
Photo caption: Commerce City Chief of Police Clint Nichols (far right) and Victim Services Manager Kim Messina (second from right) are joined by their mentees from the Kaysville Police Department in Utah: Assistant Chief of Police Seth Ellington (left) and Victim Service Unit Supervisor Jennifer Winchester (second from left).
About National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW), April 19-25
NCVRW raises awareness about crime victims’ issues and rights and introduces the community to the important resources and services available. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) leads communities throughout the country in their annual observances by promoting victims’ rights and honoring crime victims and those who advocate on their behalf. Visit ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw for more information.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)
SAAM raises public awareness about sexual violence and educates communities on how to prevent it. The current campaign theme of “I Ask” champions the message that asking for consent is a healthy, normal, and necessary part of everyday interactions. Since consent is a clear example of what it takes to end sexual harassment, abuse and assault, this theme centers on empowering everyone to put consent into practice. Learn more at nsvrc.org/saam.
To report a sexual assault and learn more about your options, visit reportingoptions.org. If a crime is in progress or someone is in danger, always call 911 to report an emergency.